Top court denies bid for new sentencing hearing

LITTLE ROCK — A death row inmate will not get a new sentencing hearing for his conviction in a 1993 killing at a Little Rock laundry, as Arkansas' highest court rejected Thursday his argument that jurors didn't properly consider factors such as his troubled childhood.

In a 4-3 ruling, the state Supreme Court rejected the bid by Terrick Nooner to vacate his death sentence and send the case back to a lower court for resentencing. Nooner, 42, was convicted of killing Scot Stobaugh, 22, during a robbery. A second person also was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

"We have considered all of Nooner's arguments, and conclude that none of them demonstrates extraordinary circumstances to justify recalling the mandate in his direct appeal," Justice Donald Corbin wrote in the court's ruling.

Josh Lee, a federal public defender who represented Nooner in his appeal, declined to comment on the court's ruling.

In arguing earlier this year for the case to be reopened, Lee had cited a December 2011 state Supreme Court decision in which another condemned inmate, Frank Williams, was granted a new sentencing hearing for the same reason.

At the time of Williams' case, jurors could check a box on the verdict forms that indicated there was no mitigating evidence, which jurors did in Nooner's case. The form has since been changed.

The three dissenting justices said Thursday that the changes to the wording of the verdict forms didn't change their meaning.

"In other words, the majority has exalted form over substance to justify disparate treatment of death-row inmates," Chief Justice Hannah wrote.

Justices also appeared to reject the argument they had used for ordering a new sentencing hearing for Williams, saying Thursday that decision "was made in error."

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he was reviewing how Thursday's ruling would affect Williams' case.
"I appreciate the Court's thoughtful opinion in this case," McDaniel said in a statement released by his office.

Williams was sentenced to death for the 1992 shooting death of Lafayette County farmer Clyde Spence. Prosecutors said Williams shot Spence with a .25-caliber pistol after Spence fired him.